I've been so busy taking pictures of other stuff that I haven't had time this week to take very many cat pictures. But here's Hilbert sitting by the door pondering whether to go out into the backyard. He always does, but he often has to think about it long and hard before making his move.

Asia:

Germany:

Great Britain:

Ireland

I'll bet the Rt Hon Chris Patten is required by his employment contract to use the Oxford comma.

Yesterday a reader sent me an email asking, "Is there a more 'you' story in the news right now than this"? The story in question was a court decision that hinged on a Maine law that lacked an Oxford comma, but I got busy with other stuff and never read it. So here it is:

What ensued in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and in a 29-page court decision handed down on Monday, was an exercise in high-stakes grammar pedantry that could cost a dairy company in Portland, Me., an estimated $10 million.

....The debate over commas is often a pretty inconsequential one, but it was anything but for the truck drivers. Note the lack of Oxford comma — also known as the serial comma — in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Does the law intend to exempt the distribution of the three categories that follow, or does it mean to exempt packing for the shipping or distribution of them?

Shockingly, this lack of an Oxford comma wasn't just sloppiness. Apparently the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual is very clear that Oxford commas shouldn't be used except in rare cases. What idiots! If there's anyplace in the world that ought to embrace the Oxford comma, it's the legislative process. Legislation is mostly impenetrable anyway, so even if you think the Oxford comma is ugly, who cares?

In any case, I'd like to point out that a surprising number of court cases hinge on "grammar pedantry." Or syntax pedantry or dictionary pedantry or various other kinds of linguistic pedantry. Is a "penalty" enforced through the tax code a fine, which would be illegal, or a tax, which would be legal? One Supreme Court justice changed his mind on this crucial question in 2012, and saved Obamacare. Millions of people now have health insurance because of linguistic pedantry.

And before you ask, I am pleased to report that Mother Jones officially endorses the Oxford comma in its style guide. Everyone else should too.

The Trumpies just don't know when to quit:

The White House has tried to soothe an angry Britain after suggesting that President Barack Obama used London’s spy agency to conduct secret surveillance on President Trump while he was a candidate last year.

....Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, spoke with Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, on Thursday night to try to smooth over the unusual rupture between the United States and its closest international ally. The White House said it would issue a statement later on Friday morning.

The flap started when Mr. Spicer, in the course of defending Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated accusation that Mr. Obama had ordered the future president’s phones tapped last year, read from the White House lectern comments by a Fox News commentator asserting that the British spy agency was involved. Andrew Napolitano, the commentator, said on air that Mr. Obama had used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump.

It's like I said yesterday: Trump needs to get it through his head that he's now the president of the United States. It's not Rosie O'Donnell he's feuding with anymore. When he tosses off random crap because he's bored and wants attention—and then refuses to back down because Donald Trump never backs down—he wastes everyone's time and risks far more than just his own tattered reputation.

The result so far of Trump's obvious lie is that the Senate is wasting time pretending to investigate; the House is wasting time pretending to investigate; the Justice Department is wasting time responding to the House and Senate; the conservative media is wasting time inventing ever more crap to defend Trump's original crap; the White House communications shop is wasting time desperately trying to research spin to back up their boss; and the prime minister of Great Britain is pissed off. All because Trump got bored one morning. What a cock-up.

Today was the great Meals on Wheels debacle. Politico's framing was typical:

Mulvaney: Proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels are compassionate to taxpayers

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney on Thursday defended the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts to social welfare programs....“Meals on Wheels sounds great,” Mulvaney said during the White House news briefing, adding that “we're not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”

This take quickly went viral. But Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers hot and cold meals to elderly people who can't get out of the house. Did Mulvaney really say that he was showing compassion by cutting a tiny part of the federal budget for a program that helps feed the elderly? If you were writing a satire designed to show that Republicans were all heartless bastards, you still wouldn't invent something like that. It would be too ridiculous to work even as black humor.

I would hardly put anything beyond the Trump administration at this point, but hell, this is bad PR. They have too much animal shrewdness to do this even if they wanted to. And it turns out, they didn't. Here's what really happened:

  1. The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs a program called Community Development Block Grants. It's exactly what it sounds like. It provides funds to states that they can use for a variety of approved purposes.
     
  2. Last year, the Obama administration recommended cutting its budget from $3 billion to $2.8 billion.
     
  3. This year, Mulvaney proposed that the program be eliminated entirely. Here's what the Trump budget has to say about it:

Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, a savings of $3 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results. The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level, and redirects Federal resources to other activities.

  1. Some bright bulb noticed that a few states use a small portion of their HUD CDBG money to fund Meals on Wheels. Actually, small isn't the right word. Microscopic is the the right word. Elderly nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels receive about $700 million from other government sources—most of which aren't targeted one way or the other in the Trump budget—but hardly anything from CDBG grants.

  2. Here is Mulvaney's full quote after getting a question that, for some reason, focused on Meals on Wheels:

Housing and Urban Development, and the Community Development Block Grants, aren't exclusively about housing. They support a variety of different programs, including, in part, Meals on Wheels. In Austin Texas today, one organization there that delivers those meals to thousands of elderly, says that those citizens will no longer be able to be provided those meals. So what do you say to those American who are ultimately losing out?

As you know, Meals on Wheels is not a federal program. It's part of the CDBGs, the block grants, that we give to the states. And there have been many states that have made the decision to use that money for Meals on Wheels.

Here's what I can tell you about CDBGs, because that's what we fund, is that we've spent $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s. The CDBGs have been identified as programs by the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can't do that anymore. We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good. And great, Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that's a state decision to fund that particular program.

But to take federal money and give it to the states and say we want to give you money for programs that don't work, I can't defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We're $20 trillion in debt, we're going to spend money, we're going to spend a lot of money, but we're not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we've made to people.

Note how far apart those two snippets are. A second reporter then followed up several minutes later, using Meals on Wheels as an example yet again, and asked if this was a "hard-hearted budget." Mulvaney said no, he thought it was compassionate to stop taxing people to pay for programs that don't work.

Mulvaney, obviously, wasn't saying that Meals on Wheels doesn't work. He was saying that CDBGs don't work. Meals on Wheels might be great, but community grants aren't, and he wants to eliminate them. But by smushing together three quotes delivered at three different points, it sounds like Mulvaney was gleefully killing off food for the elderly.

I'm no expert on community block grants. I don't know if they're a good idea or not. And God knows the Trump "skinny budget" is a disgraceful piece of work for the richest country on the planet. But spinning this as "Mulvaney guts Meals on Wheels" is pretty ridiculous. The vast majority of federal funding for Meals on Wheels—which comes via HHS's Administration on Aging, not HUD's CDBGs—remains intact. Someone managed to plant this idea with reporters, and more power to them. Good job! But reporters ought to be smart enough not to fall for it.

Nancy LeTourneau suggests that Donald Trump is surprised that we're all still talking about his accusation that President Obama had him wiretapped during the campaign:

In the two weeks since he sent those tweets, both the media and members of Congress have gone on a fishing expedition to investigate his claims. It’s clear he was lying. But during an interview last night with Tucker Carlson, Trump indicated that he wants to move on....Instead of acknowledging the obvious, he promises to produce (non-existent) evidence that he was right. It will all come to light sometime in the future.

....Trump’s pattern is to pretend that evidence to support his lies is forthcoming and assume that our collective attention span is as short as his when it fails to materialize.

This is a lesson Trump learned during his decades as a B-list celebrity. If you say something outrageous, it will get you attention from the Page Six crowd but it won't last long. It doesn't especially matter if it's true or not true. It's entertainment, and as long as it drives traffic it's all good. In a few days it will get eclipsed by something else and everyone will lose interest.

Without giving it much thought, Trump probably figured the same was true of politics. And it is—but only up to a point. Even as a presidential candidate Trump could count on outrages dying out fairly quickly. But not as president. That's the point where it's not entertainment anymore.

Backbenchers in Congress can count on reporters getting bored with their dumb lies in a day or two. For senators and committee chairs it's a few days. For Paul Ryan it's a week. For cabinet members a couple of weeks tops. But for the president? Who knows? Weeks can stretch into months, and you never know when something will pop up years later to remind the press to badger you about it yet again. It's a whole different world than Page Six.

Over at The Corner, Ericka Andersen writes: "More and more liberal Americans are embracing socialism. Unfortunately, it seems many of them aren’t aware of the realities that citizens in countries like Venezuela face."

That got me curious. Is it true that more and more liberal Americans are embracing socialism? I couldn't find a whole lot on the subject, but Gallup has asked a few times recently whether people have a positive image of socialism. And in 2015 they asked whether people would vote for a socialist. Here are the results:

This isn't much. Maybe ANES has some longer-term trends on this? Still, the Gallup polls don't suggest any overall recent warming toward socialism. If liberals really are getting seduced by the red menace, some other group must be making up for it.

So what's going on? A few recent polls have gotten a lot of attention for reporting that millennials prefer socialism to capitalism, but I doubt they really mean much. For one thing, we have no idea if this is anything new. For another, millennials polled in 2016 probably figured that socialist meant "Bernie Sanders." But Bernie's no socialist, no matter what he calls himself.1 He's a European-style social democrat, just like me.

If I hear millennials starting to talk about nationalizing the banks and having the feds take over the steel mills, then it might be time to wonder what's going on. Until then, I think the answer is: nothing.

1I don't know what he believes in his heart of hearts, of course. In practice, however, he's a pretty standard issue social democrat. So are lots of American liberals. Bernie is just more vocal about getting there right now than most of them. That's one of the benefits of having a safe seat in Vermont.

I'm just having fun with the new camera and some Photoshopping today. Here is Ansel Adams, updated for suburban Southern California:

The next one is the result of some filter or other that I can't remember, in combination with some random color swapping. It almost seems like Vermont in October instead of Southern California in winter, doesn't it?

Last night I read Donald Trump's comment that he had read the word "wiretap" in the New York Times on January 20, so he figured that made it OK on March 4 to accuse President Obama of wiretapping him. I vaguely wondered what article he was talking about, but it was late and life is short, so I went to bed instead of searching for it.

Today, though, I wondered yet again. Here's what the Times search engine tells me:

I also tried "wire tap" and "wire-tap." No dice. Does anyone have a clue what he was talking about?

And how about the Bret Baier report "the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping"? I can't find that either.

Do either of these things exist? Or is Trump just making stuff up to cover for the fact that he read about it in a Breitbart News summary of a Mark Levin radio rant?

I guess I'm about the thousandth person to post this video, but it's seriously bananas:

Did you catch all that? Tucker Carlson points out that working-class areas that voted for Trump would be hurt far more by his health care bill than more affluent areas. Trump's response? "I know, I know." Then Carlson says that seems inconsistent with Trump's campaign message. Trump's response? "A lot of things aren't consistent."

Trump spends the rest of the time whining about the GOP's thin majority in the Senate and the fact that Democrats won't vote for his bill because they're selfish and stupid.

Carlson also asked Trump about his wiretapping claim. Remember how we all used to mock Sarah Palin for her word salad? Now we have Donald Trump. Behold:

CARLSON: So on March 4, 6:35 in the morning, you're down in Florida, and you tweet, the former administration wiretapped me, surveilled me, at Trump Tower during the last election. How did you find out? You said, I just found out. How did you learn that?

TRUMP: Well, I've been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20 a "New York Times" article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I've been seeing a lot of things.

Now, for the most part, I'm not going to discuss it, because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn't been submitted as of yet. But it's potentially a very serious situation.

CARLSON: So, 51,000 people retweeted that. So a lot of people thought that was plausible, they believe you, you're the President — you're in charge of the agencies. Every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?

TRUMP: Because I don't want to do anything that's going to violate any strength of an agency. We have enough problems. And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken -- that was during the Obama years. That was not during us. That was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job.

But, we will be submitting certain things and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week, but it's right now before the committee, and I think I want to leave it. I have a lot of confidence in the committee.

CARLSON: Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it? Don't you devalue your words when you can't provide evidence?

TRUMP: Well, because "The New York Times" wrote about it. Not that I respect "The New York Times." I call it the failing "New York Times." But they did write on January 20 using the word wiretap. Other people have come out with —

CARLSON: Right, but you're the President. You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.

TRUMP: I do. I do. But I think that frankly we have a lot right now. And I think if you watch — if you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name. He mentioned it. And other people have mentioned it. But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping —

And don't forget, when I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes. That really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that's a very important thing. But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

This. Is. Nuts.